Get into a flow state as much as possible. I’ve interviewed dozens of high-level executives, thriving entrepreneurs, and successful business owners who grow their own food because it gets them into a flow state. These people can afford anything they want: They aren’t doing it to save money.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marjory Wildcraft, founder of The Grow Network, which is a movement of people who are stopping the destruction of the Earth via homegrown food. Marjory is the author of The Grow System: The Essential Guide to Modern Self-Sufficient Living — From Growing Food to Making Medicine. She has been on the cover of Masters of Health magazine, has hosted Mother Earth News’ Online Homesteading Summit, and was featured by National Geographic as an expert in off-grid living.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
A huge failure changed my life completely.
I lived in Bastrop County, Texas. As luck would have it, Steve Bridges, the president of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association, happened to live nearby. Steve had this dream of getting locally grown, organic food into the public school system. It was such a good idea that a team of rock-star, mover-and-shaker volunteers quickly formed. I suggested that we start with Red Rock Elementary School, which was just down the street in my small rural town. Once we piloted the program at Red Rock, we could “McDonald” the program everywhere across Texas.
Everyone loved this project!
Teachers and parents had seen the reams and reams of studies that show that kids who eat high-quality, nutritionally dense food have fewer behavioral problems and score higher on intelligence tests.
Even the students wanted it. The kids tended a couple of raised-bed gardens and, once a year, the vegetables that were grown in that garden were made into a big soup. The kids loved it!
The third meeting was held on a clear, dark Thursday evening. I remember pausing in the parking lot to look up into the dark night sky and see the stars shining (which is one of the reasons to live in a small town).
Everyone showed up early.
We didn’t mind our shabby (but free) meeting place. The Red Rock Community center building is more than 100 years old, and the acoustics are terrible. So our voices had to be raised to overcome the whirring of the ceiling fans, the buzz of fluorescent lights, and the echoing walls.
The group of us were sitting on rickety, metal folding chairs and gathered around one table that had a tendency to rock when anyone bumped it.
We were on fire!
Our enthusiasm grew and grew as members of our group reported in. The State of Texas (which had just banned soda machines on campus) had a fund that could get us 20,000 dollars in grant money.
Laughing, smiling, and high-fiving, we pushed on with the agenda.
The next step was to put pen to paper and make a list of all the farmers who would grow the food.
And that was when it happened.
The ceiling fans kept wobbling and the florescent lights kept humming, but few words were spoken.
Among all of us, we pretty much knew everyone growing organically in Texas. Steve stared at the pen in his hand and the blank piece of paper in front of him. Then he looked around the table at each of us. None of us could think of any nearby organic farmers.
A feeble suggestion came from Patti: “What about Mike, who used to farm in Cedar Creek?”
But Mike had sold his farm and decided to go to culinary school.
It felt like I had just gained 100 lbs. What we realized was that there weren’t enough organic farmers in all of Bastrop County to grow even part of the vegetables for one small, rural elementary school. There weren’t even enough farmers in the surrounding three counties to provide enough vegetables for one small, rural elementary school.
All those concerts by Willie Nelson to save the family farms hadn’t worked.
The truth is that it’s not just Texas: Almost all of the U.S. is like that.
Not a single word was spoken after that.
I knew, and everyone there knew, that there is only four days’ worth of food supply in the grocery stores.
Most people who live in the city assume there is food growing out in the countryside. If anything really bad happened … well, at least you could get food from farmers if you needed it. Steal it, even, if you were desperate enough.
But there is nothing to steal.
The truth was laid bare.
Suddenly the drive to and from Austin made perfect sense. Mostly raw land, an occasional gas station, maybe a new subdivision being built. But no rows of crops, no big grain silos, no tractors with deeply tanned men working fields.
Nearby Austin had a million people; the Houston metropolitan area, six million; San Antonio, a million; and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, another six million. What would all those millions of people do if anything happened to the just-in-time trucking system that kept our supermarkets stocked?
I started trembling.
As the horror of what could happen wrenched through me, the trembling turned to shake.
The others all returned to their homes.
I kept fumbling as I tried to put the abandoned chairs back in their places under the table. My vision was blurry. My hands had trouble turning off the switches to the fans and lights. It seemed to take forever to get the locks secured and the building shut properly.
For months and years after that night, I would awake in terror.
I had panic attacks.
My health declined.
I lost friendships.
My only thought was … I have to learn how to grow food. Farmers come from gardeners, and we had to build resiliency in our food supply or the consequences would be horrific.
Whatever I had done previously in my life was unimportant now.
One problem was that I didn’t know anything about how to grow food. I didn’t come from a family that gardened. My parents weren’t hippies who lived off the land.
My first degree is in electrical engineering, which I am a little bit proud to say I earned with honors. Later I became a consultant, and then a professional investor. At the time of that horrible night, I was successfully structuring high-yield limited partnerships that invested in real estate in the Austin market.
I had always been interested in money.
I had grown up in a family that sort of hovering above the poverty line. Like many kids from poor families, much of my life drive was focused on how to create wealth. I wanted to have money. Lots of it. I worked hard. And I had learned how to make it in the professional ranks and the investing world.
Only thing is … money is probably the least useful of the six forms of wealth.
One of the blessings from that terrible night was that over the next few years I would learn what it is to be truly wealthy. To be truly rich. To be truly secure. To be truly happy. And to be truly healthy. The simple act of growing my own food gave me a depth of security that cannot be bought.
I ended up creating a genuinely meaningful business and becoming the leader of a movement of people who are stopping the destruction of the Earth via homegrown food.
And that’s how The Grow Network got started.
- A major change in the direction of your life often comes as a big disaster. If this is happening to you, trust the process, knowing that you will end up being so much more fulfilled, and happier than ever before.
- The humblest things can be the most profound. I would have never guessed how rich I would become by having a garden, some chickens, and rabbits.
- Your health is your greatest asset. Being healthy is far, far more important than how much money you have in the bank, how many cars you own, or the size of your house. True wealth is grown in your backyard.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I created my very first full-length video on growing food while I was still a very hard-core prepper. The video went viral. Back then, it was hard to believe that a humble video on how to grow food would be watched and studied by hundreds of thousands of people. And now, almost a million copies.
Many preppers have a concern of other people (or the government) confiscating their reserves. The golden rule is to keep what you know and your supplies private. When I released the video, I made sure there were no identifying marks on the video and no way to trace it back to me or my farm. So although I had created a raving group of fans, none of them could reach me. It was a huge marketing mistake.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am deeply indebted to Rick Sapio, the founder of the Business Finishing School. It is a four-year, online program (with in-person gatherings twice a year). It is a school for entrepreneurs who want to create successful, purpose-driven, legacy businesses. From the Business Finishing School, I learned how to attract and retain A players, harness the power of rhythms and cycles, create effective processes and systems, and bake simplicity and leverage into my company culture. I could have never built the organization I did without Rick’s guidance.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
The biggest problem in the United States (and the world) is malnutrition. The food available in grocery stores and restaurants is devoid of nutrients. The nutrient density of our foods has been declining for the last century. Commercially available foods are mostly empty calories, which has led to rampant obesity and disease.
Teaching people how to produce some of their own food has made a huge difference in their health. That is partly because of the greater nutrition, but also because the process of growing food (being outside in fresh air, gentle movements, and time away from electronics) has huge health benefits.
The bigger picture is that when you grow some of your own food, you take pressure off big commercial agriculture. Large commercial agriculture is the most destructive force on the planet. Who’s Who in America recently recognized me for having inspired hundreds of thousands of people to grow food in their backyards. I haven’t quantified it, but that is certainly having an impact on all those people’s health, and more importantly, it is helping to stop the destruction of the Earth.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Start growing some food — in your backyard or on your patio, the balcony, or just the windowsill. The rampant mental health crisis will not be solved by more therapy, drugs, or technology. You know in your gut that the system is breaking down. You’ve seen empty shelves, prices increasing, and shortages of everything. Being able to provide some of your own basic necessities, like food, is empowering, soothing, and healing.
- Get more nutrition. Malnutrition is the elephant in the room for America and is an underlying cause of the skyrocketing levels of diseases we are seeing (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.). The dirty secret of the organics industry is that organic food has only about the same nutrition as conventionally grown food. Organics do have less “anti-nutrients,” but do not contain enough elements for basic good health. The absolute best way to get nutrition is to grow food in soil that is rich in nutrients. When you grow your own, you get the peak of freshness, flavor, and nutrients.
- Frequent gentle movements are much better for your body than a short intense workout. If you work from home, break up the sitting every hour or so to check on your garden and say “hi” to the chickens. I’ve come to notice that just when my body needs some stretching is when the garden also needs a bit of weeding. I love doing garden yoga!
- Sunlight is a vital nutrient for health. Numerous studies have shown that people with high levels of vitamin D3 in their bodies brush off colds, flu, viruses, and other common ailments. Get your sunlight while doing a useful activity like watering, planting, or harvesting.
- Get into a flow state as much as possible. I’ve interviewed dozens of high-level executives, thriving entrepreneurs, and successful business owners who grow their own food because it gets them into a flow state. These people can afford anything they want: They aren’t doing it to save money. They do it because it calms them down, clears their minds, and connects them with nature. Stopping for a moment, breathing, and doing gentle work outside give you access to your right brain with all its inspiration, insights, and leaps of connection you would never get otherwise. Create your own private backyard farm sanctuary.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Well, I’ve gone ahead and done just that — I’ve created a movement of people who are dedicated to stopping the destruction of the Earth via homegrown food. Our database has more than a half-million people. Whenever I have one of “those days,” I ask myself what else could I do that is more meaningful? But it always comes back to this — empowering people to grow their own food is the most important work I can do.
I do have a suggestion for others who are looking for deeply meaningful work. Most people do not realize that we have lost more than 90 percent of heirloom varieties of vegetables. Those extremely useful food crops are now extinct. All those varieties were the painstaking work of years, decades, and in some cases centuries of careful selection by home gardeners. The Victory Garden movement was the last big push for homegrown food, and after that, we focused on college educations, plastic, and color television. Without the vast army of home growers to produce, harvest, save seed, and replant year after year, all those beautiful food sources are now gone. Forever.
To rebuild that kind of diversity again (which will be essential for human survival in a changing climate), we need to recreate the regional fairs and festivals that recognized and honored home growers who developed or innovated in creating resilient and delicious food crops. Local fairs rightfully unleash the power of competition and pride of production. Local organic farmers do not have time to do the necessary experimentation. But backyard gardeners, even though we have smaller spaces, have the luxury of being able to experiment and play. And when you have come up with something amazing, most people want and need a place to show off! Regional fairs are a way for the entire community to recognize accomplishments, exchange ideas, and see what is working. The Grow Network fulfills that role in an innovative online format.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
Well, honestly, I would not have listened to anyone’s advice before I became a CEO. It’s kind of like how I knew way more about parenting before I ever became pregnant. And, as my kids are in their 20s, I know less and less about parenting each passing year. But here is what I’ve learned, and I hope it helps you.
- Your main job as CEO is to make lots and lots of decisions that you don’t have enough information about and yet you are 100 percent responsible for. You’ll learn to trust your gut in a big way. I’ve learned to never make decisions late at night when I’m tired. And on the rare occasion when I have to take strong antibiotics, I cancel any major decision-making until after I’ve rebuilt my gut ecosystem.
- It’s the most intense personal-growth trip you’ll ever take. As CEO, so many of my cherished beliefs and ideals were completely decimated by the realities of the market and the business world. So many times, we’ve created a product or process that I loved, only to realize no one would buy it or it didn’t work in our organization and had to be scrapped. One of the thousands of examples was those “Strong and Sexy Herbal Nutritional Infusions” I created, which were such a great natural way to get a huge nutritional boost. But it was a product no one bought.
- You are unique and different from your employees (no matter how good they are), and it can be a bit lonely. Find ways to network with other CEO peers and mentors. I’ve had two accountability groups I’ve met with for the last decade. We meet via phone once per week to discuss what’s working and what isn’t. The relationships, sharing, and mentorship have been invaluable. You don’t know what you need to know, and you are going to have to get all kinds of outside feedback and help: mentors, courses, classes, coaches, etc.
- Work/life balance is a complete myth for a CEO, but you must absolutely make it a priority — make time for family, friends, and involvement with your community. This is a marathon and not a sprint, and you need the perspective, love, and support from people outside of your work sphere. Going completely “off-grid” for short periods is a necessity for your sanity and health. Your health is your greatest asset. Change your beliefs around sleep from being a “waste of time” to being a necessary part of regenerating your body (which it is).
- You have to build a team of A-players or you won’t ever get anywhere. The way to attract and retain great people is to have systems and processes that make sense, a culture that is fun, and a purpose that is compelling. At The Grow Network, every meeting has an agenda, and we harness the power of rhythms and cycles to increase efficiency. We joke around a lot. And The Grow Network is stopping the destruction of the Earth via homegrown food. Everyone on the team comes to work every day knowing they are doing deeply meaningful work.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Environmental change is my biggest concern. It’s why I founded The Grow Network — to stop the destruction of the Earth. When my kids were young, I homeschooled them. We would watch those nature shows, and I noticed I was getting angry and depressed. Every episode ended with a talk about how this species or was slowly going extinct because of habitat destruction. Most of that habitat was destroyed to make room for commercial agriculture. The solution is really simple — get more people to take some of the burdens of the system by growing their own food. I was recently in a cross-fit class where the coach kept yelling, ”Every rep counts!” And so it goes with food production. Every bit you produce counts.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Sign up for The Grow Network newsletter at https://thegrownetwork.com/signup. We publish twice a week with all kinds of resources for growing food and making medicine. I am especially active in the forums area of The Grow Network site, working with the community as we do all kinds of experiments, share resources, and generally have a lot of fun. Tag me @Marjory Wildcraft in the forums to get to me directly. Even if I don’t respond to all of them, I do read every comment.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!